Mumbai Indians captain Rohit Sharma on Thursday conceded that "incomparable" Sri Lankan pace legend Lasith Malinga, who has opted out of this year's IPL, will be severely missed by his defending champion team given his "unbelievable" past performances. The 37-year-old Malinga, who is IPL's highest wicket-taker with 170 scalps to his credit, has pulled out citing personal reasons in a major blow to the four-time champions. MI will take on the Chennai Super Kings in this season's lung-opener on September 19.
"I don't think it is easy to come and fill his boots. He has been a match-winner for Mumbai. I have said it many times, whenever we sort of find ourselves in trouble, Malinga was the one to bail us out from that," Rohit said in a pre-season online press conference.
"His experience will be missed, what he did with MI is unbelievable and it is unfortunate that he is not a part of the team this year. "We have got likes (James) Pattinson, Dhawal Kulkarni, Mohsin (Khan) and these are the names that we are looking to replace Malinga with. But obviously what Malinga did for Mumbai, it is not just comparable," he added.
Talking about his own role, Rohit said he will continue to open. "I opened the entire tournament last year and I will continue to do that. Again I keep all the options open, whatever the team wants, happy to do that. "Even when I play for India, message from my side to the management has always been the same 'do not close any doors' keep all the options open and I will do the same here as well," he said.
India's white-ball vice-captain also felt that correct reading of conditions would be crucial to his team's fortunes. "The challenge for us will be to adapt to these conditions here which probably none of us are used to, because not a lot of cricketers from our group have played here," Rohit said.
"I think mentally it is about going out there and understanding what the pitch is doing, and based on that, you need to plan your game whether it is your batting or bowling. So we have had a good chat around the group about that," he elaborated.
According to Rohit, the team's past performances in the UAE in 2014, when it made the play-offs but not the final, won't matter now. "...eventually the pitches here are going to play a big part and to understand that and adapt quickly and play to your potential, play according to what is being asked of is very crucial here. The past performance would not play a part this time around," he stressed.
Rohit recalled playing the Asia Cup in the UAE and how the pitches were behaving differently at the beginning and at the end of the tournament. He expects something similar this time around too. "...the first game that we played and the finals that we played, there was a lot of difference in how the pitch was behaving. So we certainly expect the same, as it is going to be a long tournament. The slowness of the pitch will be a big factor," he said.
Rohit also said that not only the spinners but the seamers will also get a lot of assistance in terms of reverse swing. "...there will be some reverse swing and we have got some good quality in our line-up as well, who can explore that. We have got balance and variety in our bowling attack, so we can use it depending on the conditions and team composition," he said.
Rohit is looking forward to some solid performances from the team's spinners. "All these guys, Krunal (Pandya), Rahul (Chahar), Prince Balwant Rai, there are few options, Anukul (Roy) has been part of the team for a while now, so we have quality spin...," he said.
"All these guys have experience of playing domestic cricket in India, so I hope they can use the experience and do the same for MI," he added.
Talking about the opening match against the Chennai Super Kings said his side is ready for the challenge. "CSK are probably one of the successful IPL teams and you can't take them for granted...they will come out all guns blazing. None of us have played cricket for months now, so obviously everybody wants to start on a high.
"So, we will be expecting a great contest between the two and we need to focus on what we need to do as team and all our bases are covered," Rohit signed off.